Put sales back at the top

of the CEO Agenda

A change in the economic climate

As partners and interim CROs at Blue Capital Management, since the end of 2008 we’ve  been involved in numerous restructuring and turnaround business cases on behalf of banks, companies or shareholders. Of course, under these distressed circumstances, the focus remains on cash and cost management, refinancing and recapitalisation of the balance sheet, dealing with non-performing assets usually leading to distressed asset sales and orderly wind-downs, and so on.

In all these ‘defensive’ processes, the main focus is on increasing production efficiencies, reducing overhead costs and managing cash which, in many companies, has shifted the power base from sales to internal operations and centralised support functions. However, the first signs of a potential economic recovery are emerging in certain early-adapting sectors, and here at Blue Capital Management we are starting to receive more requests for sales optimisation support from our interim sales experts. It seems now is the time to go on the ‘offensive’ again, putting more emphasis on sales and sales management. However, this might sound easier than it is.

A fresh approach to sales?

In my view a few important questions need to be addressed before gearing up the sales focus. In the past few years the economic crisis triggered some fundamental industrial changes. Senior management now needs to take a step back to figure out their company’s new strategy and only then adjust the sales and production processes accordingly. One thing is for sure: just trying harder won’t be the answer!

Although businesses are often reluctant to seek outside advice, in my experience, if provided in the way it’s needed, it can be extremely rewarding for companies to undergo a well-managed strategy reorientation process. Management needs to stay in the lead and choose the right outside help: advisors who really know your business model and the underlying figures. Sloppy, inaccurate and even ‘hope-based’ business models will undermine the successful execution of your new strategy and will not create the crucial buy-in from level 2 and 3 management.

With a new strategy, most of the current operations will only need some fine-tuning. It’s in sales and sales management where the real work is required. Today’s industry processes and rules of engagement require new go-to-market strategies. The rules from before the crisis no longer apply. Technology such as social media is now a necessity and needs to be an integral part of most companies’ sales strategies. CRM tools have improved, and contractual terms and contract management have become more rigorous and formal. Sales response times are increasingly critical. Sales management processes need to be revitalised, tailored to the new challenges and, last but not least, we need to put the right sales people in the right places.

The human factor

Regardless of the importance of tools and processes, at the end of the day the human factor is the greatest deciding factor in the success or failure of a sales process and/or the subsequent delivery process. It surprises me that, time after time, this vital area doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Even well-respected market leaders seem to spend too long focusing on their brand reputation, while failing to staff and organise their sales forces appropriately. Our Independent Business Reviews and Quick Scans repeatedly find that the real problem is the sales organisation, but company management fails to see this.

The solution isn’t to replace everybody and recruit new evangelical sales staff. On the contrary, I am a strong believer in a well-balanced sales team, with seasoned sales managers mentoring upcoming talent, and where discipline, transparency, team spirit and a winning mentality are all part of the common DNA of the sales team. Based on my own experience at Getronics and particularly in international settings, it takes at least 18 to 24 months to put such teams together and to coach them to become and remain successful. Interim sales support will accelerate this, a service we are providing more and more, helping our customers achieve the sustainable recovery of profitable sales.

Does that mean we should throw out the fundamental basics of sales? Absolutely not. Key indicators remain just that: key. But again it is the composition and the common DNA of the sales team which makes the difference between mediocrity and success.

It’s time for companies to return sales to the top of the agenda.

I hope this article is food for thought this Christmastime and, on behalf of Blue Capital Management, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and, above all, a prosperous 2015.

Klaas Wagenaar

  • December 20 2014
  • 485
  • Sales